Experts speak out Four Indianapolis-based political science professors are among 700-plus prominent foreign affairs scholars who’ve signed an open letter that blasts the Bush Administration’s “blunders” in Iraq and calls for a change of course in U.S. foreign policy. “There are always two sides to every issue. But, as a community of scholars, we do have a consensus on some things. And this is one.” —Bill Ayers The letter (printed below) comes from the Security Scholars for Sensible Foreign Policy, a nonpartisan group of national security and foreign policy experts. The signees — university professors and former Pentagon and State Department staffers — represent a broad range of institutional and theoretical camps. This impressive group, comprised of conservatives and liberals alike, is united in one belief: Internationally, America is already in a deep hole and is digging deeper every day.
Butler University professor Siobhan McEvoy wondered to herself what she’d say to her young son 20 years from now if he asked her what she did as America became entrenched in an unwinnable war. “Usually, for scholars there’s not a lot you can do,” she said. “But this letter is something. So I decided I needed to sign on.”
McEvoy is joined on the list by Bill Ayers of the University of Indianapolis, IUPUI’s Scott Pegg and Marian College’s Pierre Atlas — all well-respected political science professors.
Ayers likens this letter to one that came from the scientific community in recent years on global warming. Those experts made a unified statement pushing the debate past the issue’s validity. Similarly, the political experts signing this letter “may disagree on the details, but the world is round, not flat,” said Ayers, who noted that the signees include every living author he’s listed on a class syllabus. “There are always two sides to every issue. But, as a community of scholars, we do have a consensus on some things. And this is one.”
The power of this message comes from just how diverse the members of the consensus are — even among the four signees from Indianapolis. “This goes beyond bipartisanship,” Ayers said. “A lot of these people are bitter enemies on other issues. And many of them are nobody’s liberal. Not even close. Even the diversity of the four different people from Indianapolis serves as a microcosm for the letter’s signees in general.”
Pegg agreed. “All sides of the debate are on the letter. I’ve never seen any document with such a broad consensus,” he said. “Every strand of opinion in the field is there. [The Bush Administration’s policies] have unsettled a variety of people in a variety of ways. This is, by no means, a leftist, pacifist conspiracy.”
McEvoy said this kind of cooperation is unusual from her colleagues. “International relations scholars are not the kind of people who jump quickly to make pronouncements,” she said. “It is remarkable.”
Atlas, a registered Republican who writes a regular column for The Indianapolis Star and specializes in Middle East politics, hopes people outside of academia don’t dismiss this as more whining from egghead liberals. “People need to break through the sports rivalry approach. This isn’t the Yankees versus the Red Sox,” he said. “It’s bigger than that.”
Ayers hopes people can break away from their teams or tribes and stop and think about the issues. “It’s not about substance or ideology anymore, it’s about what group we belong to,” he said.
All four professors fear the anti-intellectual sentiment in America — encouraged by the Bush Administration — may weaken the power of the letter’s message to those who feel outside that group. “It’s very dangerous for a president to dismiss academics,” Atlas said. “One real problem with Bush and most of his advisors is that they are utterly unwilling to listen to anybody who doesn’t agree with them.”
While the letter stops short of endorsing John Kerry for president, it makes it clear that Bush isn’t a viable option. And, released shortly before the election, the scholars’ goal seems clear.
“We are optimistic that maybe somebody out there would like to know what people who spend their lives thinking about this kind of thing have concluded,” Ayers said. “This is it.”
While Atlas said he doesn’t think the “world will blow up” if Bush is reelected, he sees Kerry’s approach as much better for the U.S. and the world. Kerry’s emphasis on building alliances and leading the world instead of bullying it has been our approach to foreign policy for 50 years, he said. “Bush is not conservative when it comes to foreign policy,” Atlas said. “He’s radical. Kerry’s approach to foreign policy is far more traditional and more in line with previous Republican and Democratic administrations.”
McEvoy feels the necessary change of course won’t happen without a new president. “The kind of thinking and the diplomacy necessary are not something the Bush Administration can achieve,” she said. “This administration has a very narrow intelligence and a very narrow world view.”
An Open Letter to the American People from Security Scholars for Sensible Foreign Policy: We, a nonpartisan group of foreign affairs specialists, have joined together to call urgently for a change of course in American foreign and national security policy. We judge that the current American policy centered around the war in Iraq is the most misguided one since the Vietnam period, one which harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists. One result has been a great distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy — an emphasis on speculation instead of facts, on mythology instead of calculation and on misplaced moralizing over considerations of national interest. We write to challenge some of these distortions. Although we applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan, its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder. It is a fact that the early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists. Many of the justifications offered by the Bush Administration for the war in Iraq have been proven untrue by credible studies, including by U.S. government agencies. There is no evidence that Iraq assisted al-Qaida, and its prewar involvement in international terrorism was negligible. Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was negligible, and its nuclear weapons program virtually nonexistent. In comparative terms, Iran is and was much the greater sponsor of terrorism, and North Korea and Pakistan pose much the greater risk of nuclear proliferation to terrorists. Even on moral grounds, the case for war was dubious: The war itself has killed over a thousand Americans and unknown thousands of Iraqis, and if the threat of civil war becomes reality, ordinary Iraqis could be even worse off than they were under Saddam Hussein. The Administration knew most of these facts and risks before the war, and could have discovered the others, but instead it played down, concealed or misrepresented them. Policy errors during the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq have created a situation in Iraq worse than it needed to be. Spurning the advice of Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki, the Administration committed an inadequate number of troops to the occupation, leading to the continuing failure to establish security in Iraq. Ignoring prewar planning by the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, it created a needless security vacuum by disbanding the Iraqi Army, and embarked on a poorly planned and ineffective reconstruction effort, which to date has managed to spend only a fraction of the money earmarked for it. As a result, Iraqi popular dismay at the lack of security, jobs or reliable electric power fuels much of the violent opposition to the U.S. military presence, while the war itself has drawn in terrorists from outside Iraq. The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests. While the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime was desirable, the benefit to the U.S. was small as prewar inspections had already proven the extreme weakness of his WMD programs, and therefore the small size of the threat he posed. On the negative side, the excessive U.S. focus on Iraq led to weak and inadequate responses to the greater challenges posed by North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear programs, and diverted resources from the economic and diplomatic efforts needed to fight terrorism in its breeding grounds in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. Worse, American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the U.S. in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama Bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case. Recognizing these negative consequences of the Iraq war, in addition to the cost in lives and money, we believe that a fundamental reassessment is in order. Significant improvements are needed in our strategy in Iraq and the implementation of that strategy. We call urgently for an open debate on how to achieve these ends, one informed by attention to the facts on the ground in Iraq, the facts of al-Qaida’s methods and strategies and sober attention to American interests and values. For a complete list of signatures and letter footnotes, go to www.sensibleforeignpolicy.net.